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Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

July 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Note: this sermon can be hear by clicking the embedded player below

or by downloading at the link here:

Sermon for Pentecost 7.mp3

 

jesus-teachingGrace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text for the sermon is the Gospel just read. “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” This is our text.

The kingdom of heaven is like a sower who went out to sow and just sowed seed everywhere. The kingdom of heaven looks tiny and insignificant to untrained eyes, but for those who recognize it’s potential and power it’s like a mustard seed which grows into a great bush and like a little bit of leavened bread which leavens a whole lump. The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who found weeds growing in his wheat and didn’t pull them up lest he uprooted the wheat too. The kingdom of heaven is of such value those who see it would sell everything to have it, like a man who found a buried treasure in a field and sold everything he owned to by the field and like a merchant who sold everything he owned to buy a pearl of great price. Not everyone will enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s like a great net thrown into the sea and gets all the fish, but the good ones will be kept and the bad fish thrown away.

“Have you understood all these things?” asked Jesus. They said to him, “Yes.”

We certainly identify with Jesus’ parables. I think one of the reasons that we can identify with these stories that Jesus tells some two thousand years ago and in a culture very different from our own is because these stories not only tell us about the kingdom of heaven which is timeless and really cultureless, or rather, a culture of it’s own, but because these stories relate so precisely to our human nature. We can identify with a man who while working in a field finds a buried treasure and then goes and sell everything he has to get that treasure. We understand that. Of course usually in our society, the treasure is usually not all that valuable but the one giving up everything seems to think so. We see them. Married for 20 years, two kids, great job, great house, pillar of the community, gives it all up for someone younger and prettier. Another variant on the story looks like this, so many hours at work chasing the next raise and the next promotion that she literally sacrifices everything, motherhood, any time to enjoy the life she has earned for herself. Those examples may not be us, but this might be. I heard a report on the radio this week talking about summer vacation for American workers. The average American worker gets 12.4 vacation days, that’s less, by the way than medieval peasants in the Middle Ages! And what’s worse, one third of us don’t even use all that time off! Can you tell what was most important for them? We understand Jesus’ parables from long ago because they speak to us today. In 2,000 years humans haven’t changed at all. We identify with these stories but do we understand them?

“Have you understood all these things?” asked Jesus not just of the disciples then but of us now. Do you understand what it is that Jesus has accomplished and is continuing to accomplish for you and for those who would understand him? Do we see the kingdom for what it is and the rest of the world for what it is? Read chapter 13 of Matthew over again and take a good long look, up close, and see what the kingdom is. Because Jesus is asking you, “Do you understand all these things?”

Understanding all these things means something for all eternity. Jesus isn’t asking about our understanding of these things because it’s some kind of holiness quiz or super spiritual knowledge bowl. In two of the parables Jesus tells, there is a picture of the judgment and the last day. The weeds will be harvested and burned in fire and the bad fish caught in the net will be thrown out. If I’m talking with anyone about what I do for a living, it doesn’t take long for the conversation to turn toward sermonizing. What phrase leaps to your mind when you hear the word preacher or sermon? Number one answer on the survey, (sorry, Daniel has been watching a lot of Family Feud lately) “fire and brimstone.” I’m always curious what people mean when they bring up the phrase. I like to think I preach with a little bit of fire in my belly, like maybe some of this business really means something to me. But is that what people mean? Or do they mean, that preachers sometimes use vivid descriptions of judgment, and the damnation to Hell of sinners forever to encourage repentance out of fear of divine wrath and punishment? I think that’s what they mean. Most people don’t believe it, but Jesus preached “fire and brimstone.” Jesus has used two such images, the harvest and the net, in the parables of chapter 13. Remember Jesus isn’t a self-help guru. He’s the Host High God and if he is talking about judgment then what he is talking about has implications for us for all eternity.

There is an old preacher’s story, I think it goes back to Fred Craddock. He said he was visiting the home of a former student after his graduation and after a great dinner the young parents excused themselves and hustled the children off to bed, leaving Fred in the living room with the family pet, a large, sleek greyhound. Earlier in the evening Fred had watched the kids rolling around on the floor playing with the greyhound.

“That’s a full-blooded greyhound, there,” the father of the kids told Fred. “He once raced professionally down in Florida. Then we got him. Great dog with the kids, that greyhound,” the father said.

Well it was just Fred and the dog sitting there in the living room and the dog turned and looked at Fred and said, “So, this your first visit to Connecticut?”

“No,” Fred answered. “I went to school up here a long time ago.”

“Well I guess you heard, I came up here from Miami,” said the greyhound.

“Oh, yeah,” Fred said, “you retired.”

“No,” the dog said. “Is that what they told you? No, no, I didn’t retire. I spent 10 years racing professionally in Miami. That’s 10 years of running around that track day after day, seven days a week, chasing that rabbit. Well, one day, I got up close. I got a real good look at that rabbit. And you know what? It was a fake! I realized that I had spent my whole life chasing a fake rabbit. Hey, man, I didn’t retire, I quit.”

Jesus parables show us what our world really looks like so that we can see what God gives to us in sharper relief. On the face of it, the kingdom Jesus came to bring doesn’t look like much. A Galilean traveling preacher’s wisdom sayings and there’s healing and miracles too. Now that’s interesting. But then there’s the bloody cross of Jesus and it looks like it’s all over. But something his followers say, catch the attention of people. He is raised from the dead and now ascended into heaven. He claimed to be the very Son of God. Something in all that makes sense to us. Our shortcomings and failures to one another and ultimately to God, they matter. Jesus’ followers in their writings and preaching they didn’t create anything new; they quoted the old. Jesus opened up the Bible to them. Their Bible is what we would know today as the Old Testament. These sayings and teachings come directly out of what the Moses and the prophets had been saying for centuries. There is nothing new here and yet Jesus comes and makes everything new. He comes and puts more meaning into the prophecies and stories of the Old Testament like no rabbi before him ever could. Suddenly, Abraham commanded to sacrifice Isaac on Mt. Moriah is a different story in the light of the coming of Jesus the only-begotten Son of God sacrificed on Golgatha in the shadow of Mt. Moriah. Suddenly, the prophesies of Isaiah are understood in Jesus in a way never before seen. There’s nothing new here, but it’s still like they and we are hearing for the first time. Through Jesus we can see the world for what it is and see what Jesus gives us to rescue us from it through his death and resurrection.

So go ahead. Get a good look and stop being fooled or even fooling yourself. Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear. And pray with me what I think is one of the most profound prayers of the Scriptures. “Lord, I believe. Help thou, my unbelief.” Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Sermon for Weds after Pentecost 6

July 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Readings:  1 Samuel 6:19-7:17

Acts 19:1-22

 

Note: the sermon can be heard by clicking on the embedded player below

or by downloading from the link here:

Sermon for Weds after Pentecost 6.mp3

 

Image of Baal and Asherah

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Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

July 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

The sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below

or by downloading the link here:

54 Sermon for Pentecost 6.mp3

 

The_Parables_of_Jesus005Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

At the risk of completely losing you in the first line of the sermon this morning, I want to mention a technical point of Greek grammar and I don’t want to lose you but it really is rather important. When Jesus starts teaching this parable he says in our text, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field…” But the Greek is a little more awkward to render in English. It literally reads, “The kingdom of heaven has become like a man who sowed good seed in his field.” In that awkward grammar there is a wonderful truth: the kingdom of heaven has already come. The kingdom of heaven is not something that will hopefully come one day. We are not like Jews who wait for and wish that one day Messiah will come. It’s a technical point of grammar but its pure comfort. We are already living in the world in which the active reign of God has been restored. The world is already like what Jesus is about to describe in this parable.

And so Jesus begins, “The kingdom of heaven has already become like a man who sowed good seed in his field but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.” That’s what you experience isn’t it. “If God’s kingdom has already come, if God is really in charge,” we wonder, “why does He let our dear Christian brothers and sisters all over the world suffer at the hands of evil people who persecute them and kill them?” Because the devil has sown evil seed in the world in amidst the good seed. We wonder, “But if God’s kingdom has already come, how does He allow sickness and weakness and evil to beset His people even to the point that it obscures and hinders the work of the Gospel? If the kingdom of heaven has already come, quite frankly, why does it so often feel like it hasn’t?” What Jesus is saying is that the active ruling of God has already come and yet the final ending, the Last Day is still delayed. Jesus is telling this parable to describe the time of waiting for us who must still suffer the effects of the work of the devil in the world while knowing already that the kingdom of heaven has already come and it will come to completion at the harvest, the final judgment on the Last Day.

Just before our reading, Jesus had been teaching plainly and straightforwardly about his work to restore the active ruling of God in our world. In a few verbal scuffles with the Pharisees, Jesus clearly taught that He is God come from heaven to restore the right understanding of the Sabbath. Likewise, a little later after he had healed many on the Sabbath, including a man with a withered hand and a demon possessed man, the crowds began to wonder if Jesus really could be the promised Son of David, that is, God’s Messiah. But again the Pharisees said that it was only because Jesus was the prince of demons that He could command demons. Again in response, Jesus taught very plainly that it was not logical that the prince of demons would cast out demons. Chapter 12 verse 26 and following, “And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus is teaching plainly that the one who comes to restore the rule of heaven on earth will come and heal and cast out demons and has authority to do so even on the Sabbath. And so by the end of the chapter, verse 45, Jesus describes those allied against him as a wicked and evil generation, essentially opposed to the restoration of the active rule of God again on earth. And so these string of parables that come in chapter 13 come as a strategy to teach not necessarily less straightforwardly, but rather to teach and preach in ways that sneak around the barriers people make for themselves against the truth of God’s Word. He tells these parables to people who think citizenship in the kingdom of heaven is a list of rules perfectly followed or power and control over others. Jesus tells these parables to challenge what have become “religious” beliefs that have come to stand in the place of God’s own Word and to force people to rethink what God says it means to be a citizen of his kingdom, the kingdom he is restoring through the work of His Son and Messiah, Jesus. Citizenship in that kingdom is first and foremost about listening to the One God has sent, Jesus Christ. So, Jesus tells all these parables in response to the opposition of those around him because he wants them to see the danger they’re in. That’s really is the context for these parables.

Again, as with the parable of the sower, thankfully, we know precisely what this parable means because Jesus himself explains it to his disciples privately. He both identifies the characters and the actions that are key to understanding the parable. “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” And the reapers are angels. Then he goes on to actions. The harvest is the close of the age. The weeds are gathered and burned with fire is the judgment at the close of the age. (Mt 13:37–42)

wheat-tares_sermonsWe’ve already had a grammar lesson this morning so I should probably add to that a bit of botany. The weeds sown in the field are called zinzania, what is known today as darnel. Darnel looks like wheat in fact it is sometimes known as false wheat. When they grow together in the same field, their roots even intertwine as they grow together. The difference is when the ear appears on the wheat. The ears on the true wheat are so heavy that it makes the entire plant droop downward, but on darnel the ears are light and stand up straight. Ok. End of the botany lesson. The difference between wheat and weeds is the fruit. Jesus doesn’t elaborate on the point but I will. The difference between children of the kingdom of heaven and children of the evil one is their fruit. The first fruit of children of the kingdom is faith in the kingdom bringer, Jesus Christ. Friends, remember that Jesus is telling these parables in response to a situation. People are not listening to Jesus’ plain teaching because it doesn’t match with what they think is God’s Law. The Pharisees have rejected Him and are leading others to do the same. In fact all who reject Jesus, who reject who He claims to be and who reject His teaching are the sons of the evil one. They will not produce the same fruit as children of the kingdom. The difference between children of the kingdom of heaven and children of the evil one is their fruit.

But Jesus is not just speaking narrowly about the church. Remember the field is the world. Jesus is speaking about how evil exists in this world and how it got there and what it does. And He is promising you what will happen at the judgment. Evil, all evil in the world, everything that stands against the goodness of God’s creation for his people, all brokenness, sickness, pain, and open sinfulness, will be judged and punished. Jesus is describing the active ruling of God in his creation again as he has come to restore it and and how we already experience it.

There is also great comfort here too. Look at the attitudes of the characters of this parable. Look at the servants of the sower, the angels. They want, just like you do probably, to get rid of every last weed in that field. It is not right that the good plants should have to compete for resources with the weeds. If Jesus has really come from heaven to set to right all that is wrong with the world and restore the rule of God, it is not right that Christians should be beset on all sides by the devil and his sons. But look at the field owner. He is not worried about His good seed being choked out. What He is worried about is them being uprooted in the process of getting rid of the weeds. The owner is patient. He is sure of the seed he has planted. He is sure they will bear fruit even if they must live in amidst the weeds. He has directed the sowing of the good seed in His field and He will oversee the harvest. By the way, in case that doesn’t leap out at you, Jesus is making an implicit claim to being divine here. Jesus the Son of Man is the Sower and He will direct the harvest and it is for your sake, for your protection, that the weeds are not uprooted until the harvest.

Let me go a step further now and speak a little bit about what this parable is not about. This parable is not narrowly about the church. Remember the field is the world. The announcement that the rule of heaven has been restored in the world has become like this—a field where the Sower has sown the good seed and the devil has sown weeds so as to frustrate and sap the strength of the good plants. There remains evil in the world. It cannot be rooted out without a great deal of destruction. The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades are but two examples from history that fall along these lines. At the same time, this parable is not about prohibiting church discipline. It is not about allowing to remain in the church people who preach and teach false doctrine or who live ungodly lives disobedient to the clear Word of God and are openly unrepentant with regard to the rule of heaven. Congregations and church bodies have the full right to remove from their communion people who will not conform to godly doctrine and life. Remember it is the fruit that is judged. If we excommunicate someone, we are saying they are in need of repentance so that they are not condemned at judgment. There is a great deal of mischief among leaders in the church who misapply the field to the church rather than to the world and so say that Jesus is condemning the rooting out unrepentant false doctrine or shameless ungodly behavior. “Leave the judgment to the angels,” they say. That’s a deliberate and false reading of this parable. The field is the world not the church. Those are but two of the things that Jesus is not teaching in this parable.

Jesus tells this series of parables to describe to us how the active ruling of God has already come in his coming. Whereas last week’s parable was centered around bearing fruit, this week’s parable is centered around persevering in challenging and less than ideal circumstances. And so Jesus is explaining how the kingdom of heaven can be present in the world while not yet wiping out all opposition to it. That must await the harvest. The parable deals with sincere expectation of the judgment of the world on the Last Day not the deterioration of doctrine or life in the church. He’s telling this parable to describe the delay between the restoration of God’s rule on earth and the final judgment. He tells these parables in response to opposition of those around him because he wants them to see the danger they’re in. The difference between wheat and weeds is the fruit, that is, the difference between children of the kingdom of heaven and children of the evil one is their fruit. The first fruit of children of the kingdom is faith in the kingdom bringer, Jesus Christ. Jesus is who He says He is. It is for your sake, for your protection, that the weeds are not uprooted until the harvest. Jesus, the Son of Man is the Sower and He will direct the harvest. Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Sermon for the Weds after Pentecost 5, 7/16

July 30, 2014 Leave a comment

Note: this sermon can be heard by clicking on the embedded player below

or by downloading at the link here:

52 Sermon for the Weds after Pentecost 5.mp3

The inspiration for this sermon came primarily from Tom Wright’s book on Galatians, Paul for Everyone.

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Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

July 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Romans 8:12-17

Note: the sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below

or by right clicking and downloading the file to your computer or device

51 Sermon for Sunday Pent 5.mp3

 

Also, I’d like to note that the content of this sermon came from a sermon series on Romans published by Dr. Schmitt at Concordia Seminary.  After being in and out of the pulpit for some 17 years I’m trying to challenge myself to preach a little differently than I learned to.  Breaking old habits is hard.  So I’m learning on Dr. Schmitt this summer to try to work through some different ideas about preaching and hopeful change the structure of my sermons for next half of my work in the Lord’s kingdom.

 

Rembrandt-van-Rijn-The-Return-of-the-Prodigal-Son-1636-painting-artwork-print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

aparableprodigalson

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Sermon for Weds, 7/9

July 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Matthew 14:22-33

Jesus walks on the water.

Note: The audio for the sermon can be heard by clicking the embedded player below

or by right clicking and downloading the file directly

50 Sermon for Weds after Pent 4.mp3

 

Note: this sermon was written by adapting many of the thoughts in the published materials for the day from our recent Vacation Bible School series, “Gangway to Galileee.”

 

jesus-walking-on-water

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Sermon for the Funeral of +Cordelia Marling+

July 8, 2014 Leave a comment

8 July, 2014

2 Corinthians 5:1-15

 

Note: the audio for this sermon can be heard by clicking on the embedded player below

or by downloading by right clicking the link below.

Sermon for the Funeral of Cordelia Marling.mp3

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text for the sermon is the epistle reading for today from 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and what an appropriate text for us to hear today in the wake of Cordelia’s passing. Not only was the last verse of this reading Cordelia’s confirmation verse, the whole of this text really seems to speak to how she lived as a daughter of our Heavenly Father and our sister in Christ Jesus.

In his first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Paul finished with chapter 15, the great resurrection chapter. Paul described how Christ Jesus was raised in His body and appeared to the Peter and the twelve and some 500 other disciples before He ascended, and went on to make the point that if Christ is not raised then our faith is in vain, but Christ has been raised, he argued that as in Adam all men die, in Christ all are made alive, raised in a resurrection body, and Paul finished with saying that what is sown perishable is raised imperishable, we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, death is swallowed up in victory, thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Those are just the highlights of Paul’s great crescendo that is first Corinthians, chapter 15.

And that is the true hope we have today as we celebrate all that God has done in and through our sister in Christ, Cordelia. This was the content of Cordelia’s faith, a faith she knew so well all her life, and from which she took such comfort especially in her later years when her life was so much harder.

But our reading is from Paul’s second letter to the Christians in Corinth. Paul had to write a second letter to the Christians in Corinth because even after his great depiction of the resurrection of the body. It sounds like people got Paul’s first teaching about our immortality wrong. Some readers over the years have misunderstood Paul here thinking that he longed to be released from the bonds of physical existence, to live as nothing but a spirit not limited to the confines of a bodily existence. But that’s a misreading. Paul is expressing his frustration with the limitations and disabilities of living under the curse of death after the sin of Adam knowing as he did that he had been created for and was promised to possess a spiritual body perfectly suited to the geography of the new creation. Paul is seeking freedom from a bondage to decay not from any and every form of bodily existence. After all, we believe and agree with what we say in the Apostles’ Creed we believe in the “resurrection of the body.”

And yet Paul groaned in his tent. He was frustrated with how our bodies, corrupted by sin, break down. Cordelia, too, knew all too well the tent in which we groan. A body and mind corruptible and subject to decay and decline. Oh, how she longed with St. Paul here to put on her heavenly dwelling, a new body, incorruptible and imperishable, to be clothed with immortality “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Like a lot of our shut-ins, I’ve only just come to know Cordelia a little bit over the past year and, of course, I never knew her as many of you remember her as she was here happy to be in the Lord’s house. We’ve got the signal flags up in the narthex because we’re in the middle of Vacation Bible School this week and several commented last night, that it would be okay to leave those up, that Cordelia delighted in knowing that children were learning about Jesus. I may not remember her as some of you so but I do know that she appreciated my visits to bring the Word of God to her and very much appreciated receiving the Lord’s Supper. When she was having a good day she’d follow along with the communion liturgy quite well as we confessed our sins and heard the Word of God together. Even when she was having a not so good day, we could still pray the Lord’s Prayer together and she’d mouth the Word of Institution with me as I said them over the elements. Showing that what we learn first, we forget last. Cordelia was not just a nice church lady but a woman whose faith was always informed by the Scriptures, a faith that trusted in the love of God shown in the cross of Christ Jesus. She was an example of someone who had received the Holy Spirit as that guarantee Paul talks about that there is more to this life than what we see and that while this life is hard and we suffer the effects of sin in this corruptible body, we trust that one day, we will be in the imperishable body promised for us. Sin corrupts our bodies and death even divides body from spirit but nothing separates us from love of God in Christ Jesus.

Isn’t that what we just sang in the last verse of the hymn, “Thy love unknown / has broken ev’ry barrier down; / Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone, / O Lamb of God, I come, I come. (LSB 570:6)

The love of God is the source and motivation for all of Paul’s work as a follower of Christ, a faithful apostle and tireless missionary. “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;” and we have arrived at Cordelia’s confirmation verse, “and [Christ] he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Paul’s view was this: that dying with Christ should lead to living for Christ. Paul is speaking all “who live” in union with the resurrected Christ. As we said together at the beginning of the service today, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” The practical outcome of this Christian self-denial is a Christ-centered life filled with concern for others.

None of us does this perfectly. Paul didn’t. Cordelia would say of herself that she certainly didn’t. I certainly don’t live this way nearly as much as I would like. And yet, often we do this, not because we‘re working hard but because God is hard at work in us and is effecting this work by the Holy Spirit each day, combating not only the temptation to sin around us but giving us victory over the power of sin, even over death itself. Paul says elsewhere, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11) God’s work in us by the Holy Spirit anticipates and guarantees His future completion of that work. Remember, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Phil 1:6)

So that is what we have today: encouragement from the apostle Paul to live a life that pleases God. Too often, even we Christians, live to please others and to please ourselves, neglecting the one thing that makes life worth living—pleasing God. And remember that living to please God is not living under the burden of the Law but trusting in the Word of God’s undeserved favor toward us, trusting in the forgiveness of sins, trusting in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit as it was working in Cordelia all her life as it is in your life. Let that truth comfort you in the days and weeks to come as we mourn Cordelia’s death, remembering that nothing can separate us from God and we can look forward to the day we meet Him face to face. Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus Amen.

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